Béla Fleck

Crossing the Tracks

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Crossing the Tracks was Béla Fleck's first solo album, released on LP by Rounder Records in 1979, featured an inspired and forward-thinking string band consisting of Bob Applebaum on mandolin, Russ Barenberg on acoustic guitar, Sam Bush on fiddle, Mark Schatz on acoustic bass, and Fleck, then a 20-year-old banjo player with brilliant chops and a bebop heart. Fleck gets the bluegrass monkey off his back with the opening track, a solid version of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs' "Dear Old Dixie," and then is free to roam through a gentle and sparkling set of traditional tunes ("Growling Old Man and Grumbling Old Woman"), boogie rags (Fats Waller's "How Can You Face Me Now"), airy and elegant originals ("Inman Square" and the wonderful, endlessly shifting "Twilight"), and genre-jumping jazz covers (Chick Corea's "Spain"), all done with a bright, joyful élan, before ending things with a beautiful old-timey version of the traditional "Ain't Gonna Work Tomorrow," which features vocals from Fleck's old Tasty Licks bandmate Pat Enright. In time this sort of thing would come to be known as "jazzgrass" or "newgrass," but there really wasn't a name for it in 1979, which certainly didn't stop Fleck from going there. Crossing the Tracks is full of subtle innovation, and if it doesn't seem as immediately startling as his later fusion flights, listen again. All the seeds are there.

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